Wednesday, August 12, 2015

QB Corner: Geno Smith's SIlver Lining

I might be crazy. Apparently that’s the way the NY Jets like it. An NFL preseason that has already seen one or to fracases entered the Tyson Zone Tuesday morning as I got a tweet form Yahoo! Sports that Jets QB Geno Smith suffered a broken jaw from a sucker punch.

I started getting more tweets, from reputable sources even. I Googled IK Enemkpali and learned to spell his last name. I read from Neil Paine how the Jets will be better without their purported starter. That sounds like crazy talk, but Neil uses good data and this whole situation is ludicrous anyway. So let’s go  further off the rails and posit: missing 6 – 10 will make Geno a better QB.

Geno Smith was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2013 NFL draft after two years in Dana Holgorsen's explosive passing offense. He complied impressive totals, beating records held by guys named Bulger and Brady. As a senior, he threw 42 TDs against 6 picks and his team averaged 39.5 points per game, 9th in the BCS. The WV playbook was predicated on creating space, included built-in constraint plays, and allowed Smith and his receivers to adjust their routes depending on the coverage. It was playground football: the Mountaineers ran good athletes like Tavon Austin to spaces where they’d get one-on-one coverage, let the QB make simple one- or two-person reads, and let the ball fly. Holgorsen’s usually had multiple options on one side of the field; as I've said about others, it isn't a one-read offense, but it is more simplistic.

This worked brilliantly against college defenses that stay in base packages during the regular season – it’s hard to scheme against a team like West Virginia during the academic year because their scheme is constantly changing. The scheme also hid Smith's weaknesses well. Footwork wasn't as big a deal since he knew which side of the field he should go to and was already in the gun. College defenses don't disguise coverages well (if at all), so anticipating the field didn't get him in trouble with picks. Quick reads made use of his quick release, and adjusting routes made accuracy less of an issue (e.g. instead of always throwing to a certain spot at a certain time, Geno and his receivers adjusted to each other).

Smith was also aided by the type of competition he faced: schools like aren’t known for fearsome pass defenses. The Mountaineers' scoring numbers look gaudy, but are somewhat hollow. The average scoring defense the Mountaineers faced ranked 72nd in the nation (out of 124 BCS teams) The Mountaineers played some pretty horrific teams:

  • 69 points against Marshall (123rd out of 124 BCS teams in scoring D)
  • 31 points against Maryland (87th)
  • 70 points against Baylor (113th)
  • 48 points against Texas (74th)
  • 14 points against Texas Tech (92nd!!!)
  • 34 against Oklahoma State (64th)
  • 59 against Kansas (112th)

AVERAGE: 46 points against 95th ranked scoring D

Their numbers against above-average defenses weren’t as good, outside a blowout of Oklahoma in which Tavon Austin ran 21 times for 344 yards on his way to 446 yards from scrimmage (17.0 yards/touch). That obviously had something to do with Geno… Nah. Anyway, their numbers against better defenses:

  • 14 against Kansas State (28th)
  • 38 against TCU (30th)
  • 49 against Oklahoma (51st)
  • 31 against Iowa State (38th)
  • 14 against Syracuse (47th)

AVERAGE: 29 points per game against 39th ranked scoring D

By definition, it’s harder to score against a defense that posted a lower scoring average. As the team went on a 5 game losing streak through the heart of the Big 12 schedule, analysts increasingly pointed out Geno’s flaws. Check out this draft profile. Or this. They echo: He didn’t have great pressure or pocket awareness, poor footwork led to errant throws, and he was wont to lock on one side of the field. When the combination plays and reads weren't available, Geno often got in trouble trying to backpedal in the pocket rather than stepping forward to progress in his reads. Those weaknesses happened to be the exact attributes the WV offense was designed to mask, making NFL evaulation especially difficult.

My point isn’t to bash Smith’s college career or his draft position, but rather point out that he played in a favorable system coached by an offensive genius, and that he still had major flaws. Geno was the perfect redshirt candidate: sit a year behind a shaky starter in Mark Sanchez, get a feel for NFL speed and coverages, and see how pros prepare to lead their teams.

We all know what happened since. Mark injured his shoulder and Geno was thrown into the fire. His first two seasons were abysmal, and there seemed little hope for him in Year 3, despite the addition of Brandon Marshall.

Then IK broke his jaw.

Geno now has the redshirt opportunity he never received. Ryan Fitzpatrick is not a great quarterback, but he is better than Smith in almost every tangible way:

Fitzpatrick stats

Smith Stats
 All numbers courtesy of

Fitzpatrick has been criticized as a short-passing QB without the ability to make all the NFL throws, but his yards/attempt figures over the last few years trump those of Smith’s. He throws more TDs and fewer picks, and perhaps more importantly, has learned how to avoid sacks. He’s not elite in any of those categories (as his pedestrian ANYPA shows), but that’s not the point: Smith can learn from someone better than he is right now, and has a clear path to regaining the starting job due to Fitzpatrick’s shortcomings.

This is all pure conjecture, which I’ll admit is a far departure from the usual film and stats-based QB Corner material. But Geno Smith’s career almost could not have begun on a more ignoble path. Business as usual is not working. Getting reps as a starter is important, but too many reps in the wrong fashion can doom a QB. And reps come in a variety of ways: in the film room, in meetings, in the locker room, on the bench. Those reps will be valuable to Geno if he stays focused. As bizarre as his offseason has been, I’m waiting for him to pull the ultimate magic trick and transform himself into a viable starter.

Geno Smith is already in the Tyson Zone. Let's see if he can take it to the next level.

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